By Kathe Malouf
Special to the Sun
After a four-month shutdown, the Lake Isabella Animal Shelter will re-open on Monday, July 27. And thanks to a quick and effective community grassroots effort, the local shelter will remain open through the next fiscal year.
Kern County Animal Services closed the Lake Isabella shelter, located on Highway 178 in South Lake, along with all other county-operated shelters on March 16, due to the Coronavirus pandemic. Since that time, the only shelter to re-open was the Bakersfield shelter, which opened on June 8.
But earlier this week, Nick Cullen, Director of Kern County Animal Services met with Diedra Morrison, one of the shelter employees at the local shelter to give the green light to reopen, after confirming that the required safety and public health guidelines as established by the CDC had been implemented.
And like other businesses in Kern County that have recently reopened, it won’t be business as usual for the shelter. There will be a “new normal” for the day-to-day operation of the shelter once the doors reopen.
For instance, anyone coming into the shelter will be required to wear a face mask. Only one person at a time will be allowed inside the office and only one person in the shelter, with a shelter escort. Hours of operation will be changed to 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Other restrictions are expected, but Morrison said all requirements that will be implemented will be for the protection of the animals and the public.
“We all have to work together and we will do what we have to do. We are ready to re-open under the new normal,” Morrison said.
While the Coronavirus was the primary reason behind the March closure of animal shelters, a dismal outlook for Kern County’s budget was threatening the future of the facility.
Kern County is facing a multi-million dollar shortfall in the upcoming budget for the 2020-2021 fiscal year, due to the economic impacts of COVID-19. The pandemic has reduced revenue that comes through sales taxes. Lower sales tax funding along with a reduction in oil prices and property taxes has left Kern County facing a challenging year.
The County budget projected reductions for all departments, including Animal Services, prompting talk that the shelters in Lake Isabella and Mojave would be permanently closed.
Once word of the possible closure of the local animal shelter got out, Morrison said Kern Valley shelter supporters launched a grassroots effort sending emails, text messages and petitions to the Board of Supervisors asking that the shelter remain open. Petitions were placed at various businesses throughout the valley and supporters walked various communities to collect signatures of support.
The community’s voices were heard and late last week it was evident that the campaign paid off. Kern County Animal Services Department announced on their Facebook page that their department had been advised that their budget reduction would be eased back enough to allow for the life-saving animal shelter in Lake Isabella to remain open.
“We were very relieved to hear the news,” Morrison said.
Morrison said she was not surprised at how quickly community residents rallied behind the shelter, sending a passionate and strong message to County administrators about the importance of keeping the local shelter open.
“So many people and businesses helped,” Morrison said adding that more than 1,800 signatures were collected during a matter of a few days.
Kern County Supervisor Mick Gleason, who represents the Kern River Valley, said the letters and petitions were effective.
“The people of the Kern River Valley are responsible for that shelter staying open,” Gleason said.
But Gleason was also quick to give credit to the Department’s Director.
“I have great department heads who understand the people and the needs of the community,” Gleason said. “Nick Cullen recognized that the animal shelter is of incredible value to the Kern River Valley. And Nick was eager to find the money needed to keep that shelter open and he did a great job. Nick is a wonderful guy and a good representative of the County.”
Morrison said the efforts to keep the shelter open was all about the animals.
“This valley is very passionate and supportive of the Lake Isabella Animal Shelter which is a much-needed facility for both the animal and community,” Morrison said. “Our pets are our best friends. They fill a void in our hearts and lives and their loyalty is amazing. They are beside us when we are sick and they always sense our sadness or our happiness. We need our pets as much as they need us.”